Food, Glorious Food!

By guest blogger Alex Olkovsky, a graduate student in American Studies

While many collections in our archives contain business and legal documents, there are also numerous focused on people’s daily and domestic lives. Unsurprisingly, these collections are where we can oftentimes most clearly hear women’s voices. Women’s daily lives, beliefs, and values come through in commonplace books, which are essentially a mixture of diary and scrapbook, often containing journal entries, newspaper clippings, copied poetry and hymns, and recipes.

Looking at these recipes, in particular, can give us more information about the woman, her socioeconomic class, and her location. They can also help us date the book, as the use of certain foods and technologies denotes a particular time period. Plus, we can see which recipes have stood the test of time and which have, fortunately for us, been replaced with cheaper and/or yummier ones.

Two commonplace books in the collection tell a story of how American cookery evolved over the latter half of the 19th century. Martha Jane Coleman Banks’ commonplace book, which she created from around 1848 to around 1865, shows the relative poverty of her time as well as the real concern of how to preserve food in the time before mass refrigeration. Annie Perkins’ book, dated to the early 1910s to the 1920s, shows very different patterns in cooking and food. Her recipes include many more dessert recipes, as well as newer and more expensive ingredients such as coconut, salmon, and oysters, and refrigeration seems less difficult, as her book even includes a recipe for homemade ice cream.

Martha Jane Coleman Banks, born in 1833, was expected to make and preserve most of her family’s food. The recipes in her commonplace book, including those cut and pasted from newspapers, show a much more rural, self-reliant way of cooking. There are instructions for a quick method of churning butter, canning tomatoes, and drying peaches.

We also get a sense of the domestic appliances at Banks’ disposal in these recipes, especially since the butter article notes the ‘new’ way of boiling milk in a kettle. The book also illustrates the initial growth of mass production, as the author of one newspaper article recommends that women keep canned food in Northern-produced tin cans, which “cost only 12 ½ cents each” and will keep for decades if washed properly.

Newspaper clipping about making butter

A large issue for a housewife of Banks’ time was the problem of refrigeration. While artificial refrigeration had been invented in the 18th century, refrigerators for the home were not invented and mass produced until 1913. The recipes in Banks’ commonplace book offer a keen reminder of this fact, as one advises that a can of vegetables not contain “more than can be consumed at two meals in warm weather, as the tomatoes soon spoil after the cans are opened.”

However, Banks’ time period was also rife with new produce, as America saw the mingling of English, Native American, and continental European peoples and crops. One regular feature in a newspaper Banks read was the “Horticultural Department,” which offered expert advice on how to plant and prepare produce. An article from 1854 taught women how to cook asparagus, which the author noted was “not yet appreciated in the up-country of the South.” Other vegetable recipes in this article included ones for beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers (apparently fried cucumber is delicious), “Indian corn,” “spinage,” and salsify (a root vegetable similar to parsnips). The instructions for cooking these vegetables were almost always to boil them and then smother them in butter.

Newspaper clipping showing illustration for Horticulture Department

By the time that Annie Perkins was compiling her commonplace book in the first two decades of the 20th century, the landscape of American cooking had changed dramatically. Perkins’ book features a majority of dessert recipes, including ones for basic pound and sponge cakes as well as more exotic ingredients such as cantaloupe, coconut, and chocolate. Compared to Banks’ time, Perkins would have been expected to purchase many more of her goods, perhaps freeing up time to create more lavish and complicated desserts. However, most of the recipes were more basic ones that a young housewife would have been expected to master.

Handwritten recipe for oatmeal cookies, 1922

Perkins’ commonplace book also has a greater variety of ingredients than does Banks’, especially in regards to meat and fish. Banks’ book offers few meat and fish recipes, and those that exist tend to be of animals a rural Southern woman would have access to, such as chickens and pigs. By contrast, Perkins’ recipes include ones for anchovies, clams, canned salmon, and oysters. Not knowing exactly where these two women lived, it is possible that Perkins had more access to fish because she may have lived on a coast. However, the existence of canned fish in her recipes also suggests that by her time mass production allowed for more variety in the diet.

Newspaper clipping with meat and fish recipes,

Lastly, we can also get a sense of what appliances Perkins’ kitchen had from her commonplace book recipes. One recipe for cheese puffs requires the use of a grater, a saucepan, paper cases (similar to muffin cups), and an oven, which is a lot of work and appliances for a so-called first course at a dinner party. An article elucidating the best way to make toast scoffs at the idea of using an older toast rack, saying that it “allow[s] the heat to escape, and [is not] recommended.” Perhaps most in contrast to Banks’ difficulties with refrigeration, Perkins’ commonplace book includes handwritten recipe for homemade ice cream, calling attention to the fact that refrigeration and packaged ice were available by the early 20th century.

3D Digitization Project, round two

It’s been some time since we updated you on Jeremiah’s 3D digitization project. It’s been through one round of prototype and testing, and now it’s in a second phase. We thought we’d talk about where we are and show off an early 3D printing test.

The Old Process

The first version of the process — using our Canon EOS 6D plus custom hardware and software — was successful in exactly the way you want an exploratory project to be: it worked well enough to confirm proof of concept and provide feedback to guide further development.

The old process had two main drawbacks. First of all, it wasn’t entirely automatic. One still needed to manually capture the item, using the custom lighting rig and aperture mask (pictured below) to facilitate an incremental shift of perspective over dozens of photos.


It was also necessary to use Photoshop for parts of the process: for visual assessment  — checking to make sure the greenscreen process went as expected — and to create the final composite image. Only then could that composite “height map” be compiled with the “texture map” in his software to create the 3D image.

Secondly, there was a concern with the resulting 3D manifestations. Since the process used exposure to determine depth, highlights from shiny objects or changes in color across the surface of an item might be interpreted as changes in lightness and darkness — therefore, in exposure — creating anomalies in depth in the finished product.

The New Process

The second phase of the project involved trying a different version of the same compositing system. It meant building on previous work but also rethinking some aspects of the process.

First, the automation problem. Jeremiah discovered that a particular digital camera, the Canon PowerShot, is highly hack-able, lending itself to being manipulated by computer programs. Here’s the used model he bought, in all its hot pink glory. :)


With a computer script telling the camera what to do, it can automatically capture the necessary range of images needed for the compositing process, no human intervention required. Here it is in action, mounted on a camera stand and aimed at a test environment.


The process now depends on sharpness to determine depth, rather than light, a much more reliable method that admits a greater range of objects with various textures and colors. This also takes away the need for the special lighting and aperture hardware.

Even better, it allows for automated compositing, with his Ruby program doing the interpreting work based on contrast from pixel to pixel. No more wrangling in Photoshop — in fact, no Photoshop at all!

A Test Product

One of the desired outcomes from the project is not just a web-displayable 3D object, but also a computer file that will allow you to 3D print that object. Jeremiah recently took one of his earlier test files to be printed. The object he captured is pictured here for reference, with lighting from multiple angles so you can get a sense of its contours.


Captured and reproduced, it came out like this (evenly lit on the left, lit from an angle on the right).


You’ll notice two things: it’s rough, and it’s backwards. The backwardness is probably fixable; a tweak to the software should make it possible to reverse things. The roughness will probably take some more complex adjustments to the software. The 3D printer we used couldn’t really deal with the fineness of detail in his STL file. It’s like using a Sharpie marker to fill out a form designed for a ballpoint pen — it’ll work, but it’ll be messy.

Jeremiah assures me there’s still a ways to go with the new process. Hopefully, one of those output files will be ready for print testing soon. We’ll keep you posted.

A Day in the Life: June 1

Here’s a slice of life from June 1st over the last 170 some-odd years, representing a cross-section of materials from the digital archive — from the serious to the silly, the magical to the mundane.

Roland Harper’s Southern churches, 1901-1958

Roland Harper (1878-1966) was a lot of things, notably a geologist and botanist. According to a biographical sketch published two years after his death (see end of post for reference), “Roland Harper was intent. He botanized, observed, photographed, walked, editorialized, criticized, lived, intently.” This kind of focus, coupled with his wide range of interests, made him a particularly prolific documentarian of Southern life.

On his travels around Alabama and Georgia, as he examined rock formations and local flora, Harper also picked up artifacts of everyday life (for example, see our collection of his railroad timetables) and took hundreds of photographs of the communities he visited or passed through. One thing that frequently drew his attention was a central part of early 20th century community life: the local church.

Below is a selection of images he took of churches in the South, from the turn of the century through the late 1950s. Harper would have been about 23 when the first picture below was taken and around 80 as he took the last.

Cities and counties are in Alabama if not otherwise noted.

Church in Georgia, 1901

Church in Georgia, 1901

Interior of log church in Dooley County, Georgia, 1903

Interior of log church in Dooley County, Georgia, 1903

Church in Georgia, 1904

Church in Georgia, 1904

Church in Burke County, Georgia, 1904

Church in Burke County, Georgia, 1904

Frame church in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1918

Frame church in St. Mary's County, Maryland, 1918

Little Bethel A.M.E. church, south of Selma, 1922

Little Bethel AME church, south of Selma, 1922

Byrdine A.M.E. Zion church (background) in Greene County, 1923

Byrdine AME Zion church (background), Greene County, Alabama, 1923

Methodist Church and parsonage in Lowndesboro, 1924

Methodist Church and parsonage in Lowndesboro, 1924

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lowndesboro, 1924

St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lowndesboro, 1924

Two churches in Jefferson County, Florida, 1925

Two churches in Jefferson County, Florida, 1925

Church in Calhoun County, Florida, 1925

Church in Calhoun County, Florida, 1925

Two churches in Dallas County, 1927

Two churches in Dallas County, Alabama, 1927

First Congregational church (left) in Montgomery, 1927

First Congregational church (left) in Montgomery, 1927

Methodist Church in Somerville, 1927

Methodist Church in Somerville, 1927

Two churches in Russell County, 1927

Two churches in Russell County, Alabama, 1927

Church in Alabama, 1928

Church in Alabama, 1928

Sands Baptist Church in Hart County, Georgia, 1929

Sands Baptist Church in Hart County, Georgia, 1929

Presbyterian Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, 1930

Presbyterian Church in Cuthbert, Georgia, 1930

Prebyterian church in Eutaw, 1931

Prebyterian church in Eutaw, 1931

Episcopal church and cemetery in Carlowville, 1933

Episcopal Church and cemetery in Carlowville, 1933

Two Catholic churches in Fredericksburg, Texas, 1934

Two Catholic churches in Fredericksburg, Texas, 1934

Church on a dirt road in either Louisiana or Mississippi, 1934

Church on a dirt road in either Louisiana or Mississippi, 1934

Old Pisgah Church in Marshall County, 1937

Old Pisgah Church in Marshall County, Alabama, 1937

Old Five-Mile Church between Akron and Greensboro, 1938

Old Five-Mile Church between Akron and Greensboro, 1938

Church (background) in Virginia, 1940

Church (background) in Virginia, 1940

Church being built north of Littleville, 1941

Church being built north of Littleville, 1941

African-American church in Mobile, 1949

African American church in Mobile, 1949

Church in Dayton, 1952

Church in Dayton, 1952

Church in Eatonville, Florida, 1955

Church in Eatonville, Florida, 1955

Beard’s Chapel A.M.E. Zion church, Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1956

Beard's Chapel AME Zion church, Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1956

Castle Hill Baptist church (foreground) and Bethel Church (background) in Alabama(?), 1956

Castle Hill Baptist church, brick, and Bethel Church, wood, 1956

African-American church in Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1957

African-American church in Alberta City area of Tuscaloosa, 1957

Brick church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

Brick church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

African-American Church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

African-American Church in Tuscaloosa, 1958

Seventeenth Street A.O.H. Church of God in Tuscaloosa, circa 1958

Seventeenth Street AOH Church of God in Tuscaloosa, circa 1958



Ewan, Joseph. “Roland McMillan Harper (1878-1966).” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 95.4 (1968): 390-393.

Campus Rewind: Foster Auditorium and Coleman Coliseum

It seems like it’s impossible to write a blog post about any building on campus without talking about what came before or after. In this case, a look at Foster Auditorium led down an unexpected path — to Coleman Coliseum. But how?

Foster Auditorium

When Foster was built in 1939, it had no name.

It eventually took its name from UA President Richard Clarke Foster, who unexpectedly died while in office in 1941.

While it’s called an auditorium, we’d more accurately call it a gymnasium, and it saw students through lots of events throughout the year.

First, there was registration — back when you had to signup for classes on paper!

Registration Day

From 1958 Corolla

Registration Day

From 1959 Corolla

There would also be pep rallies of all sorts, as well as basketball games.

It also hosted plenty of non-sports-related events. Here it is packed with chairs for speeches and transformed for a dance.

Of course, we think of Foster, we also think of its defining moment: the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, the day in June 1963 when Governor Wallace attempted to bar Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering for classes at the university.

Plaques on Foster Auditorium entrance

Plaques on Foster Auditorium entrance

This is Foster today.

Foster Auditorium, 2015, view from the north

Foster Auditorium, 2015

In front of the building is Malone-Hood Plaza, celebrating the desegregation of the university.

Plaque on the Malone-Hood Plaza clocktower

Plaque on the Malone-Hood Plaza clocktower

Coleman Coliseum

By the time Foster had its big moment in the news, it was already outgrowing its usefulness. In the late 1960s, a new facility was built, one that would also be multipurpose.

Like Foster, Coleman wasn’t named after anyone at first. It was just known as Memorial Coliseum.

In 1988, it was named in honor of Jefferson Coleman, a prominent alumnus who held many positions at the university, including Business Manager of the football team and Director of Alumni Affairs. (Take a look at his photo collection in Acumen.)

Since its construction, it’s served the university in a number of capacities, including hosting concerts, celebrating graduations, and, of course, being the home court for UA’s basketball program.

This is Coleman Coliseum today, smack dab in the middle of an ever-growing athletic complex.

Coleman Coliseum, 2015

Coleman Coliseum, 2015

Alabama’s Jewish History

Did you know May is Jewish American Heritage Month? You may not: it’s a new commemoration, proclaimed by President Bush in 2006.

Alabama, like much of the South, is not known for having a large Jewish population, yet Jewish Americans have been part of the state’s history from the beginning. According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, Mobile attracted Jewish immigrants in the 1820s, and by the 1840s they flocked to cotton market towns like Montgomery and Selma. Later, in the early 20th century, they settled in industrial communities such as Birmingham and Bessemer.

Like Huntsville and Dothan, Tuscaloosa saw its Jewish population grow after the Civil War, as the town rebuilt itself. In the late 19th and early 20th century, many Jews in Tuscaloosa were merchants, largely from Hungary or Germany. Businessmen Ike Friedman and Adolph Holzstein helped establish the first congregation in Tuscaloosa, Temple Emau-El, in 1903. Prominent Jewish businesses included Bernard Friedman’s Atlanta Store, Max Pizitz’s Mercantile Company, a clothing store run by Sam Wiesel, a furniture store run by Morris Sokol, and a deli run by the Kartzinel family. By the 1960s and 1970s, though, these businesses were declining.

Hillel_Corolla1953According to the Encyclopedia entry on Tuscaloosa, “While the decline of the Jewish merchant class affected many other small Jewish communities, Tuscaloosa has managed to thrive in spite of it due to the presence of the university,” which attracted Jewish faculty and students. UA’s first Hillel House was built in 1934. The Rho chapter of sorority Sigma Delta Tau was established in 1935, and fraternity Zeta Beta Tau has an even longer history: the Psi chapter was founded at UA in 1916.

The campus Jewish population is smaller now — according to the Bama Hillel website, “There are over 700 Jewish students at Alabama, and we are growing every year!” — but it is still active. The Tuscaloosa congregation continues to depend on its ties with the university community, as it meets in a new facility on the UA campus, adjacent to the new Bloom Hillel Student Center.


Acumen has finding aids for archival collections related to Jews in Alabama:

It also has finding aids for collections related to Judaism or Jewish Americans:

  • Sheldon Rosenzsweig collection of publications about Israel — Published materials commemorating the twentieth, twenty-fifth, and thirtieth anniversaries of the founding of the Jewish state of Israel.
  • Berman Family papers — digitized and online! — Material created and kept by the Berman family of St. Louis, Missouri. These are primarily letters written, often in Hebrew, by Dr. William (Bill) Berman and his wife Marian from Ft. Riley, Kansas, where Bill served as an Army doctor during World War Two.


Eyewitness to Croxton’s Raid on Tuscaloosa, April 1865

Last year, we shared an in-depth post on the burning of the UA campus in the last days of the Civil War. This year, we take a look at the words of an eyewitness to the events.

Basil Manly, Sr., was living in Tuscaloosa during the Union raid of April 4, 1865 — sometimes referred to as Croxton’s Raid — and gave this account.

Excerpt from dairy of Basil Manly, Sr., April 4, 1865


Capture of the city. Tues. morn. April 4 In the course of the last night a portion of the Federal Cavalry, estimated at between 1500 & 2000, under Gen’l Croxton entered our city, surprising the guard at the bridge, and obtained possession of our city, without a struggle. They soon burned the buildings used for public purposes at the university, & took all the horses & mules they could find. They camped in our [streets?], that night, and next morning they proceeded to burn the foundry & factory, the niter sheds, and the bridge across the river. This last they did when retiring from the city in the direction of North port. The houses of two of the professors, inhabited by Mr. Deloffre & Mr. [D/H]ickson, took fire from the burning of other houses, and were consumed. Mr. & Mrs. Deloffre saved few things out of their dwelling, while it was burning.

Capt. Toomer, it is said, of the Tax in Kind, set fire to the row of building, known as [Drish’s?] row, as soon as the captors entered the city, and all the buildings connected with his office, were consumed; His books & papers, also, were consumed. The doors were all locked; the fire within about the latter part of the burning, the ware-house at the River was burnt, with its contents. A well-stocked [tan?]-yard, with all its stock & [?], was burned, also, the property of C. M. Foster. They passed over into North Port, burned the ware-house there; & perhaps other property. I learn that they did not burn Cumming’s [tan?]-yard, in North-Port.

A good deal of robbery & pillage was done in private houses, in situations remote from the general’s head quarters; but, generally, they were restrained from much of that in the more frequented parts of the city; except as to the storehouses & shops. [These?] were ransacked & stripped of every thing, and a general invitation to the poor, & the negros to possess themselves of what they desired.

A few days later, General Lee surrendered and the war ended, but Manly and the rest of the community didn’t hear the news until early the next month. Sometime between May 7 and May 14, he reports the following.

Excerpt from dairy of Basil Manly, Sr., early May, 1865


Gen’l Lee Surrenders. we hear, also, that Gen’l R. E. Lee, and the Remnant of his army was hemmed in near Appomattox C. H. Va. by superior numbers; and that he surrendered all the troops with him, about the 9th of April. Gen’l Jos[eph] E. Johnston surrendered his army, in N.C. a few days after to Gen’l Sherman. All over-run

New and Notable in Acumen, Fall ’14 – Spring ’15

A lot has come through the digitization pipeline in the last six months or so. Here are some highlights.


Martha Jane Coleman Banks commonplace book

Contains diary entries, diary page with newspaper clippingsmiscellaneous writings (some appear to be school related), newspaper clippings, recipes, and poems. There is also a typed transcription of the book, which was perhaps provided by the donor.

Martha Jane Coleman Banks was born in Eutaw, Alabama, on April 23, 1833, to John Coleman and Rhoda Cobb. She graduated from the Mesopotamia Female Seminary in 1848. She married James Oliver Banks in 1852. James Banks was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on September 6, 1829, to Willis Banks and Mary Gray. After their wedding, John and Martha Jane lived on a plantation in Columbus, Mississippi, and according to the commonplace book, they had at least seventy-eight slaves. Martha Jane and James had four children together: Mary Gray; Willis Alston; John Coleman; and James Oliver.

John and Mary Wellborn Cochran Diaries, Letterbook, and Photographs

diary page, handwrittenConsists of three bound volumes of this Alabama attorney and politician and his wife: John Cochran’s diary; Mary Wellborn Cochran’s journal; and a miscellany of copies of some of John Cochran’s outgoing correspondence, journal entries of his, and copies of some freedman contracts to which he was party. Also includes two unidentified photographs that appear to be from the early twentieth century.

Cochran moved from Tennessee to Jacksonville, Alabama, in 1835 and began a law practice. He served as state representative from Calhoun County, 1839-42. He then moved to Barbour County in 1843 and served as state representative from Barbour County, 1853-57. He was also a representative to the state Secession Convention, 1861, and was circuit court judge, 1861-1865. He married three times: Caroline; Mary Wellborn of Eufaula, Alabama, October 8, 1845; and Miss Toney of Eufaula.

Antebellum South / Civil War

William and Crawford L. Brown family papers

receipt, handwrittenConsists of over one hundred documents relating to the Mississippi and Alabama plantations of brothers William and Crawford L. Brown. The documents include bills of sale for slaves; receipts for clothing, dry goods, and tool repair; tax receipts listing the number of slaves; bills of lading for cotton bales; and business letters.

William and Crawford L. Brown were brothers and wealthy plantation owners in Mississippi and Alabama in the early part of the nineteenth century. William, the wealthier of the two, settled in Hinds County, Mississippi, while Crawford settled in Columbia, Alabama, where he served as postmaster. Both brothers died in the late 1840s.

Holliman and Stewart families letters

letter page, handwrittenContains Civil War letters and miscellaneous documents of James Franklin Holliman and William Stewart, to and from their families between 1862-1911, and relating to Fayette County, Alabama, history. The majority of the letters are from the Civil War era.

James Franklin Holliman, oldest son of Uriah H. and Mary Lucas Holliman, was born on 28 January 1839, in Alabama. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Holliman was a First Lieutenant in Company “B” 58th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He was captured, with a large part of his Company, by Federal forces on 25 November 1863, at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. At the end of the war, he was released from prison on Johnson’s Island, Ohio, and returned home. William M. Stewart was the son of John Stewart and the brother of Rebecca Utley Stewart Holliman.

George Doherty Johnston papers

hand drawn mapContains the personal letters and war-related correspondence of Brigadier General George Doherty Johnston of the Twenty-fifth Alabama Infantry, C.S.A. The majority of the letters are from his first wife, Euphradia, and his mother.

George Doherty Johnston was born on May 30, 1832, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, to George Mulholland and Eliza Mary Bond Johnston. When George was two, his father moved the family to Greensboro, Alabama. When his father died less than a year later, his mother moved the family to Marion, Alabama. Johnston studied law at Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. When he graduated he returned home and began his practice. In 1856, Johnston was elected mayor of Marion, and then to the state legislature in 1857. After the war, Johnston served as the commandant of cadets at the University of Alabama. He moved to South Carolina to serve as superintendent of the South Carolina Military Academy, and later was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to be the United States Civil Service Commissioner. He returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was elected a state senator.


Victor Hugo Friedman papers

photoContains Friedman’s personal and official correspondence, photographs of a camp in the Alps, his lieutenant’s commission, his Croce al Merito di Guerra and other military pins and ribbons, and various items issued to him by the military. Incoming correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author’s surname, and outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Victor Hugo Friedman was a prominent Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native and former University of Alabama football player. The founder of the Red Cross chapter in Tuscaloosa, he also served as an ambulance driver in the military for six months in Italy during World War I. He was stationed at the highest base in the Alps in August 1918. For his service to Italian soldiers in the mountains, the Italian government awarded him the Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross).

Hans Höchersteiger papers

Tcover of newsletter with typed text and hand drawn sketcheshe collection contains letters and postcards of Hans Höchersteiger, a technical sergeant of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Höchersteiger was captured in May 1941 and was held first in England and then in Ottawa, Canada. All the letters and postcards from Höchersteiger are to his family in Stuttgart, Germany, and are written in German. There is no translation for them at this time.

There are also letters from the German Red Cross to Höchersteiger’s family (probably his father) concerning his whereabouts after being captured. These letters are also in German and only a cursory translation was made to determine their subject matter. One letter to Höchersteiger from his father, toward the end of the war, discusses some vocational training and night school. There is a diary, also in German (no translation available), covering the period from 1 April to 20 July 1938.

Guardians of Mobile Bay

Sheet music, Sounds from Mobile Bay

First page of music, Sounds from Mobile Bay, 1860

During the Civil War, Mobile Bay was protected by not one but two fortifications:

  • to the west — Fort Gaines, on Dauphin Island
  • to the east — Fort Morgan, down the beach from Gulf Shores

From these strategic points, Confederate soldiers could prevent enemy ships from coming into the bay by firing upon them. At the very least, they could keep an eye on traffic coming into the harbor.

Though the forts are no longer being used, they are still standing. I’ve been to Fort Gaines before, and on a recent trip to the gulf coast, I visited Fort Morgan, its slightly more impressive brother. Below, I’ll share some images from that trip (and others from the present day) as well as photographs and documents from our archive that give you a sense of each fort and why it was important to the cause.

Map of Mobile Bay


Fort Gaines

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, by Edibobb

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, by Edibobb

Fort Gaines was built in the wake of the war of 1812 and went through Confederate hands before returning to possession by the U.S. military. (Learn more about its history here, where you can find a video and an interactive map.)

Fort Gaines is now a museum, although the fortifications are not as well preserved as Fort Morgan’s. The island, however, is a thriving little beach community. Here are a couple of images from the island in 1940:

Here’s a view from the island in the present day:

View from Dauphin Island, looking east toward Fort Morgan, 2010, by Jeffrey Reed

View from Dauphin Island, looking east toward Fort Morgan, 2010, by Jeffrey Reed

Fort Morgan

Aerial view of Fort Morgan, 2002, by Edibobb

Aerial view of Fort Morgan, 2002, by Edibobb

Like its brother across the bay, Fort Morgan was constructed after the war of 1812, taken over by the Confederate Army in at the outset of the Civil War, and retaken by the Yankees near the end. After the war, it was used for various purposes by the U.S. Army and Navy. (You can read more about its history here).

Fort Morgan guards the east side of Mobile Bay. Here are some images from our collections showing this area in the early 20th century.

Today, Fort Morgan is a state park. You can visit the museum to learn more about how the fort operated, as well as explore the ruins and take in the nature around them, including a beach on the bay and a fishing pier.




In 1861, early in the Civil War, Mobile author Augusta Evans Wilson wrote to her friend, Rachel, about the Confederate possession of the fort and what it meant to her family and community:

You have doubtless heard from the papers of our taking our Forts & Arsenal. By far the most important of these is Fort Morgan, situated 30 (thirty) miles below Mobile, and commanding the entrance to our harbor. The fortifications are very strong, and with the addition of a few Columbiads which are daily expected, will be almost impregnable. … It is an anxious, terrible time – ! My Father and both my Brothers belong to the garrison of Fort Morgan and you can readily imagine, how restless their constant exposure to attack renders me.

Augusta and her friends helped out the fort in a very real way:

Immediately after its occupation by Alabama troops, the commander informed us that a number of Sand Bags, for the ramparts were needed; and also flannel charges for the cannon. We, ladies went to work at once, and have finished over 9000 Bags. this has kept me so busily engaged, that I have had no time for anything else; not even to write to you my dear friend.

Cannon at Fort Morgan, 2015

Cannon at Fort Morgan, 2015

At some point in the fort’s life, soldiers used this small oven to heat cannon balls, which when fired into passing ships would set them ablaze!

Oven for heating cannon balls, Fort Morgan, 2015

Oven for heating cannon balls, Fort Morgan, 2015

Early on in the war, things were probably going smoothly for the troops stationed on Mobile bay. Isaac Shelby, a commissary officer for the Military Department of the Gulf, wrote this about the state of supplies at both forts in the first half of 1862:

Excerpt from letter by Confederate commissary officer, 1862

Despite a promising start, the forts, as part of the Confederate holdings, fared just as poorly as the rest of the Confederacy as the war went on. Both were retaken in the Battle of Mobile Bay, in August 1864. Our sister blog, Cool@Hoole, has an excellent series of posts on this battle, featuring items one can only find in the physical collections at Hoole Library.

Among digitized items about the battle, we have this letter of August 14, 1864. Valentine Bruner, a Union soldier from Maryland, tells his parents of the recent surrender of Gaines and impending surrender of Morgan:

First we have been dismounted and are acting as infantry we started from New orleans for Mobile the 1st of Aug. our land forces entirely surrounding the Forts and on the fifth Fort Powell was evacuated and on the 7th Fort Gaines surrendered with 700 hundred prisoners. oh you cannot imagine how proud you feel to see 700 men march out in front of you and stack their arms to you. … the same plan we tried at Forts Powell and gaines we are now trying on Fort Morgan the [?] are now as I write belching out their 15teen inch shell all over them It mus fall but I cannot say how long it will take…

In 1865, some months after both forts had fallen, Mobile finally surrendered. George S. Smith, part of a Union regiment from Ohio, marked the occasion (and the end of the war) in his diary:

George S. Smith Civil War diary, page 13

Entries for April 11-16, 1865

Thankfully, Mobile survived its 19th century hardships, including the tumult of war, a terrible explosion (May 1865), Reconstruction (through 1874), and economic depression. Now, it’s the third largest city in the state, and its bay still invites ships and beachgoers alike.

Campus Pinups?

Rammer JammerUA’s campus magazine from the 1920s to the 1950s, often featured cover art that was surprisingly risqué for the time. Or was it?

I think we tend to see 1920s-1940s through the lens of the 1950s, with its heavily censored films (see “The Hays Code” at TV Tropes) and horribly wholesome television shows like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. We forget how much the early days of movies and television could be a bit like the wild west.

For example, a lot of people could tell you that, during the 1951-1957 run of I Love Lucy, Ricky and Lucy couldn’t sleep in the same bed or use the word “pregnant.” The fact that she was actually shown to be “expecting” was pretty daring. But I bet you didn’t know that the first show to depict a pregnancy, not to mention a couple that shared a bed, was before that — on Mary Kay and Johnny, in the late 1940s, a show now lost to history.

The 1940s are a confusing period to talk about. Sure, Hollywood movies weren’t allowed to show too much skin or bad guys getting away with their crimes, but it was also the period of bombshells like Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Veronica Lake. Perhaps it had to do with the uncertainty of WWII (1939-1945) or the end of the Great Depression. Or perhaps there was nothing odd about it at all; it just looks that way in hindsight, after the 1950s. Of course, it’s also possible we’re stereotyping the 1950s, too.

What’s certain: Rammer Jammer cover art usually echoes the trends of the era, especially in the depiction of the female form.


Before WWI, there was the Gibson Girl, created by Charles Dana Gibson.

Gibson Girls

She was a species of the New Woman, and she was a bit controversial (see “The Gibson Girls: The Kardashians of the Early 1900s” at mental_floss), but pop culture hadn’t seen anything yet.

The 1920s flapper was a new breed. Jazz Age illustrators like Russell Patterson and John Held Jr. immortalized these more daring women of the Roaring Twenties, often in an Art Deco kind of style. Their kin can be found on the 1920s covers of Rammer Jammer, beginning at its inception in 1925. Click on any image below to see a larger version.


If you’ve ever seen calendars that feature stylized illustrations of scantily clad pinups girls, like those of Alberto Vargas or Gil Elvgren, you maybe won’t be too shocked by the Rammer Jammer covers of the 1930s. Early in the decade, they seem to ride the line between being provocative and being realistic, depicting students in anything from modest long skirts to clinging gowns and underclothes. Later, they point to the movement toward head shots.


The 1940s see a transition to using photographs of real women rather than illustrations. Though the Vargas Girls and Elvgren Girls still held some sway, the Rammer Jammer staff still seems a bit torn between the modest co-ed (1940-1046) and the more provocative “Sweater Girl” (1947-1949).


Rammer Jammer ended its run in 1956. Before it did, it put out lots of pinup-style photos. On the October 1951 cover (below), the photograph is actually being tacked up onto the wall by an illustrated male student. There were girls as sweet as Betty Grable or as saucy as Bettie Page, whether in photos or drawings. Certainly changes my opinion of the supposedly bland, conservative 1950s!